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As the Department of Local Government seeks, to carry out its mandate of decentralising Local Government, an action planning workshop was being staged, with participation from the island’s local authorities, to continue capacity building in furthering the reform process.
The workshop took the form of a retreat, geared specifically at discussing the Implementation Matrix, designed to guide the process of Local Government Reform.
The three-day retreat was opened on Thursday (Sept. 25), by Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, with responsibility for Local Government Reform, Robert Montague.
He addressed more than 60 participants from 14 local authorities at the action planning workshop, which concluded yesterday (Sept. 27), at the Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort and Spa in Ocho Rios, St. Ann. The workshop was facilitated by a technical team from the Department of Local Government, spearheaded by Director General, Devon Rowe.
The Minister urged Local Authorities to take ownership of the reform process, advising that they “need to begin to own the process through efficient and effective management processes.”
He reiterated the Government’s position on Local Government, reminding the gathering that Local Government authorities must become autonomous by September 2009.
“With this relatively short period for reformation, it is imperative that practitioners of Local Governance recognisz their roles as leaders of the process of change; addressing issues and implementing improvements in critical areas in order to remain responsive and relevant as a sphere of governance at the local level,” he continued.
In his wide ranging address on issues relating to the functions and roles of the Councils, the Minister identified areas within local authorities that should be targeted for attention and improvement. He spoke to efforts being made to put in place, the legal framework for an autonomous Local Government. The Legal Unit is in the process of examining some 80 pieces of legislation and as a result of this exercise, a pamphlet will be produced for Mayors.
Financing being another critical area of focus, the Minister called for Local Authorities to intensify their efforts to identify and improve “own source” revenues, such as property tax and other potential revenue earners, including trade license, market and cemetery fees. He also pointed out that the Barbers’ and Hairdressers’ fee is a lucrative area of revenue for Councils.
On the matter of accountability, the Minister noted that systems and efforts needed to be reinforced and adhered to. He said that in order to improve efficiency, it is necessary for monitoring systems and mechanisms to be improved.
“Essential to this process and the success of our Local Government system, is the quality of our human resource capital,” the Minister added. He implored Local Authorities to get involved in training programmes with other cities across the region. This, he said, would also go towards improving service delivery and customer service. He charged them to host regular Mayors’ fora to garner feedback from the community on the quality of their services, with the aim of “creating value for your Council and customer, as well as improving service delivery”.
The State Minister pointed to the fact that much has been done by the Department to build capacity within the Local Authorities, and facilitate the process of reform.
In addition to the legislative work being undertaken, several discussions have taken place on the key areas identified in the matrix, and a number of institutional and capacity building workshops have been held at the Parish Councils. A conference to be held in February 2009, and the Caribbean Local Government Conference to be held in May 2009 in the Bahamas, will further enhance the capacity to decentralise local authorities, and enhance citizen participation.